Wilfried Zaha can be a key player for Manchester United

Mike Hewitt

It's hard to see Manchester United allowing Wilfried Zaha to return on loan when he's exactly what they need.

When Ian Holloway mentioned the possibility of Wilfried Zaha returning on loan to Crystal Palace, he must surely have known that the suggestion was wishful thinking in the extreme. If not, then he hasn't been watching much of Zaha this season -- why United would want to loan out such an effective player who is ready to contribute in the Premier League immediately is anyone's guess. And if he is, as you would assume, aware of Zaha's immense quality, he certainly hasn't been watching United or their wingers.

Broadly speaking, United have four true options for their wide positions, and none of them will give much hope for the following season. First, there is Antonio Valencia, a shadow of his former self throughout an almost entirely ineffectual campaign, only slightly picking up in the handful of dead rubbers after the title had been secured. The fact he showed his best form immediately after returning from his injury suggests that he can be the player he was once again, but it is a long way from being certain.

Then there is Nani, whose every bit of skill and goal seems to come at precisely the time when all patience has been exhausted, prolonging a poor career at United long past what it ought to have been. With his potential sale providing a tempting chunk of funds to perhaps reinvest elsewhere, his time is almost certainly up. Add to this Ashley Young, who had a mediocre debut campaign and a worse second one, and Ryan Giggs, who is approaching his 40th birthday, and the picture looks grim.

Ever since Ruud Van Nistelrooy was sold, Manchester United have played in a certain way. It has tended to involve a significant gap between the back six and front four, sacrificing fluidity for solidity and relying on individual moments of trickery to create a gap which can be exploited by the remarkable quality United have always kept well-stocked in their forward ranks. Team goals are there, but they are not the object, with the front players mostly left to their own devices in the assumption quality will win out.

Overall, this has been a successful system, and certainly since Cristiano Ronaldo's departure, United have punched well above their weight using the strategy. Last year, bizarrely, there was a complete failure for their wingers to deliver, who were formerly an integral part of the plan. The suggestion that Alex Ferguson would field a diamond formation at United would have seemed absurd in 2010. Despite those failings, United somehow romped to a 20th title.

The reasons were many -- a lack of serious opposition, an increasing ability to score from set-pieces, increasingly-greater quality from forwards compensating for increasingly-poorer delivery -- but it's unlikely to be a system which will work twice, let alone be a model to work from. Even if United sign a new midfield and take a step towards a more integrated approach, they cannot risk another season with such a lack of productivity from their wide players.

Zaha, it would seem, is an ideal player to address this problem. Whether the defence is open or compact, pushed up or dropped deep, his pace and trickery can unlock it and create space for others as doubling-up becomes a necessity. This is quite one thing against Crystal Palace, but another when Robin van Persie is another player that needs to be taken into consideration. Having the likes of Javier Hernandez to supply rather than Aaron Wilbraham is also likely to see his "selfish" mentality blunted, too.

Zaha is unlikely to change the way United play, but he can aid them simply by being a more viable option than anything they have now. The individualism that has been oddly sniffed at in recent weeks will not be a hindrance to his success -- if anything, it's the reason that should keep him firmly in David Moyes' thoughts when he thinks of his most effective team.

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